CAIRO, Egypt, AP -Osama bin Laden will issue a videotaped message paying tribute to slain al-Qaida in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a message posted on an Islamic militant Web site said Wednesday.
The message did not say when the video would be posted or whether bin Laden himself would appear in the video or just speak in a voice-over. The al-Qaida leader has issued three audiotapes this year but has not appeared in a video since one issued on Oct. 29, 2004.
A similar “advertisement” was issued for an al-Zarqawi tribute put out last week by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. That advertisement appeared on the Web a day before the video was posted on Friday.
The videos appear to be part of an attempt by al-Qaida’s central leadership to tout their connection to al-Zarqawi, who emerged as a hero among Islamic extremists with his dramatic attacks against Shiites and Westerners in Iraq.
The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a June 7, U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad, swore loyalty to bin Laden but is believed to have had sometimes rocky ties with al-Qaida’s core leadership, based in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.
The ad for the bin Laden video was posted on a Web forum where militants often post messages. It was in the form of a blue banner signed by As-Sahab, the al-Qaida production branch.
The banner flashed the message, “Good News Soon,” followed by a picture of a smiling al-Zarqawi and the words, “A tribute to the martyr of the Islamic nation and prince of the martyrdom-seekers, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, God rest his soul, from Sheik Osama bin Laden, God preserve him.” The banner then flashes a picture of bin Laden.
The message raises the possibility of the first new images of bin Laden in more than a year and a half. But it could just feature his voice: Several bin Laden audio messages have been posted as voice-overs with videos showing images of other events.
Bin Laden did not issue any messages — audio or video — during 2005, his longest period of silence. But his deputy al-Zawahri continually appeared in videos.
Friday’s message was an elaborate tribute to a militant who sometimes stole the spotlight from bin Laden and al-Zawahri, portraying himself as al-Qaida’s fighter on the hottest front of “jihad” or holy war.
In July 2005, al-Zawahri reportedly wrote a letter to al-Zarqawi criticizing his attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahedeen’s image. The al-Qaida deputy also asked al-Zarqawi for money, according to the U.S. military, which said it intercepted the message.
Al-Zarqawi apparently brushed off the criticism as he continued to attack Shiites, a strategy intended to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war.
Any tension between al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida’s command appeared to have faded by early 2006, because al-Zawahri has now issued three videotapes this year in which he effusively praises al-Zarqawi.